Sport

An open letter to LIME, ISSA

Time to re-engage fans, ignite interest in daCosta Cup

BY ANDREW EDWARDS

Sunday, January 26, 2014    

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At the launch of the 2013 schoolboy football season, speaking on behalf of title sponsors LIME, Carlo Redwood boasted about how LIME will revive schoolboy football, re-engage the fans, ignite interest and excitement.

All that they did, to a large degree, yet the daCosta Cup remains quite rigid and lacking in excitement.

The Manning Cup competition starts each year with numerous emotions for players, coaches and fans. Before the draw for zones no one knows who they are likely to play come September. This unpredictability lends to the excitement and allure of the competition.

By contrast, each year the daCosta Cup starts with all teams, barring one or two, knowing exactly who they will play, and if they are astute can almost certainly detail their own fixture long before it is made public. The fixtures, by and large, are the same every year with home games reversed alternately each year.

This, without doubt, makes life very monotonous and boring, especially when fans can also predict the results for most games, most of the times.

Down the years, there have been many suggestions about how to add value and excitement to the daCosta Cup without much being done. As title sponsor, with a stated agenda of making the respective competitions exciting, attractive and fan-friendly, LIME has both a corporate and developmental responsibility to explore possibilities that can add value to any product with which they are associated.

In this regard, I urge LIME to sit with ISSA to create a technical committee to explore the following suggestions, as well as all those of other well-meaning aficionados who also wish to see new life in the daCosta Cup in particular, and schoolboy football in general.

For some, the unknown is scary, but it is one of the most exciting things to all mankind. The unknown gives an increased rush of adrenaline. With careful thought and planning the daCosta Cup, like the Manning Cup, can have a similar draw for preliminary zones.

Already there exists a geographic zoning that predetermines the inter-zone groups. These said geographic zones could then be used as the basis for drawing preliminary zones. So, for daCosta Cup Inter- zones one and two the geographic zone extends from Westmoreland to Trelawny. The proposal, therefore, is to place all the participating schools in this geographic region into pots and have a draw for the preliminary rounds of the competition.

This will not only create excitement through uncertainty, but will also provide greater opportunities for exposure to other parishes and places for the players and fans; not something to be taken lightly. Players and fans alike will welcome the opportunity to enter a contest against an "unknown school" without the feel of a prescribed outcome. This kind of feeling exists when say, for example, Rusea's play Knockalva or Munro play Balaclava among many others.

Understandably, there are two known objections to such a proposal. On the one hand, there exist some long-lasting derby rivalries, for example, STETHS and Munro, Titchfield and Port Antonio, Clarendon College and Lennon, Glenmuir and Garvey Maceo, to name a few.

These derbies usually bring out the very best in the teams and their fans; some such games have been reported to have much larger spectatorship than many daCosta Cup finals.

To preserve these rivalries, and the associated cash flow that obviously stems from the games between such teams, all that needs to be done is to seed such teams in each respective zone. This will therefore mean that schools like Paul Bogle High and St Thomas Technical High School, Rusea's and Frome, the Manning's School and Godfrey Stewart High School will be seeded as pairs in whichever zone.

The second argument is one about cost of travel. Quite frankly this is not as bad as it is perceived to be. In St Elizabeth, for example, it costs roughly the same for a charter to Manchester as it does to Appleton from Munro. Furthermore, the travel distances and costs associated with playing cricket in zones that spread to even wider geographies is testament that it can be done (Headley Cup and Under-16 cricket zones are sometimes way out of the geography used for football).

The additional excitement to be generated from "unknown schools" travelling across traditional boundaries to compete will without doubt ensure better gate receipts on average.

Seeding the inter-zone qualifiers and having another draw is another way of creating real excitement and unpredictability. Again this should matter very little as the precedence exists for Westmoreland and St James schools to travel to play against St Thomas schools in that parish. Portland and St Thomas schools have had to travel to St James and St Elizabeth as well.

Messrs Redwood and Small, our knockout competitions -- Ben Francis Cup and Walker Cup -- continue to lag behind the daCosta Cup and Manning Cup in terms of excitement, value and appeal. What if we were to incorporate a structure somewhat similar to the English FA Cup, the oldest cup competition in the world, where all participating teams are allowed to play and matches are interspersed between the Manning and daCosta Cup games? With time constraints being the obvious kink against this proposal it is quite possible to have the first two or three rounds played in that very first week of school prior to the official opening and start of the competitions.

Given the numbers entered for both the daCosta Cup and Manning Cup in the last five years, this will mean approximately seven and six rounds of games, respectively, an addition to three and two rounds of games. Again, we may need to seed some teams so they enter at a later round based on number of entrants for each competition.

Having open draws for each round will without doubt create some real excitement and at the same time give the "smaller schools" a "real" shot at winning something.

Dr Small, recently I had a conversation with a former schoolboy star player. He won the Manning Cup and Olivier Shield, went on to win multiple premier league titles and a number of national caps.

Interestingly, he is looking towards the end of his playing career and when the question of what will you be doing next came up his response was striking: "Coach di only thing mi eva do all mi life is play ball, mi nuh know wha else mi can duh, but mi wi try anything."

This literally frightened me, especially against the backdrop of my knowledge of the limited intellect of so many of our young players.

Immediately I recalled reading an interview on Arsenal.com some years ago in which Phillipe Senderos was quoted as saying: "at Arsenal all players are encouraged to read and to read widely, it is quite common for us to be seen reading a magazine, newspaper or a book on any of our long flights or coach rides for a match."

It has always been my view that intellectual minds make for better players. Today, this can be substantiated by the scholastic demand being made of the Barcelona Academy players, in particular, and academy players all over the world. This is not to impute that footballers need to be scholastic geniuses. Rather, it is suggesting that, on the one hand, intellectual players are amongst the very best and thus getting the best opportunities. Secondly, it is to point to the reality that professional players the world over are equipped with the basic intellect to walk out of football and into another aspect of life without panic.

As president of the ISSA, maybe the time is right to revisit the academic qualifications for participation in ISSA-run sports. Be mindful that when a bar is raised man will always rise to meet it, and that there are endless opportunities outside of school sports for those who refuse to see the bigger picture.

Each month several boys are either suspended until they matriculate or flatly expelled if they don't meet the expected scholastic levels demanded at Barcelona and this is regardless of their football potential.

Maybe there is a lesson there.

Editor's note: Andrew Edwards is a member of the Jamaica Football Federation's Under-20 men's technical staff and is the current coach of Munro College.

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